As grocery shopping returns to “normal,” should you still be buying products like it’s the pandemic?

By Stacey Ballis
May 25, 2021
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No, the pandemic is not over. But yes, our lives are slowly returning to normal, and with that, we find ourselves able to shop for groceries more like we used to. Thank goodness!

But what of those 25-pound bags of flour we bought, those giant cans of beans and tomatoes, or even just items from the bulk bins at our local markets? We saved money! We stored things smartly! We were ready for anything! The truth is, many habits we developed during the pandemic might still serve us well, which bring us to the crucial question:

Should we still buy (and store) our grocery items in bulk?

We have talked about shopping in bulk and what to buy/avoid before. But now is the time to really assess if bulk shopping is something you should continue to do, and more importantly, if storing in bulk is something you are ready to do moving forward. Use our guide to see if bulk shopping (and storage!) is for you, and if it is, how to do it right going forward. See you in the bulk aisles!

Bulk Containers
Credit: Getty / cemagraphics

How to know if you should be buying in bulk

Is bulk buying still for you? To get a better handle on this decision, make these two simple but important assessments: 

1. Assess your needs.

Assume that you will have easy access to all the foods you need when you need them. Now that buying in bulk is more about convenience or cost savings than pure sustenance, you may find that the items you buy in bulk shifts. Think about how many people are in your household and how you all eat day to day. For example, if you eat beans or lentils twice per week or more, it makes sense to continue to buy those in bulk for the cost savings, since you will go through them at a good pace. If you only eat them occasionally, and usually for specific recipes, you can purchase and replenish as needed. There will always be a potential cost-savings in hitting the bulk bins and larger packages, but ONLY if you logistically move through those items while they are at their optimal condition, and do not end up throwing away things that go bad.

2. Examine your space.

Do you live in a studio apartment? Is every inch of your current cabinets/pantry filled to bursting? Bulk purchases take up room, and if you do not have the ability to store them effectively, you either need to Marie Kondo some extra room, or you need to admit that bulk buying is not for you. But, if you have, say, a small unused closet, extra room in your pantry, or a basement or garage with room for an extra fridge or freezer or shelving unit? Bulk buying might just be for you!

What to buy in bulk

Not all bulk goods are created equal. Some can be safely and effectively stored at room temperature (rice, beans, pastas), but some require refrigeration once opened, and some will do better in a freezer. For example, nuts are always much cheaper in bulk, but also can go rancid quickly so they do best in the freezer. Many condiments are great things to get at scale if you use them all the time (#ranchoneverything), but do you have room in your fridge for a gallon bottle? Just because you know you will use something that makes it a cost savings to buy big, that only holds true if you have the proper storage.

How many bulk items to buy at a time

Don't jump in with both feet on bulk buying and storage. Start with the few items you feel confident about and see how it goes. It can be easy to go overboard and seriously overspend on both storage solutions and bulk purchases. I recommend between 1-3 bulk items at a time, then pause and see if it feels like an improvement, then expand as needed.

How to store bulk goods in your home

When you buy in bulk, you will usually need to repackage what you are buying once you get it home. How you do that depends on where you are going to store things. If you are storing at room temp or in the fridge, put into airtight storage like our favorite Rubbermaid Brilliance Pantry Set or the Tupperware Modular Mates, or try a vacuum storage container set like Lasting Freshness Vacuum Seal storage. If you are storing in the freezer, you can use heavy duty freezer bags to repackage (consider doubling up just for extra confidence, or if you really want to keep things airtight, invest in a vacuum sealer).